We have his own word for it that Max Nicholson refused a knighthood several times over. It would have been no less than he deserved - but he was singularly unimpressed by honours and, throughout a long and incredibly productive life, was much more interested in doing things, or pressing others to do them, than in gaining personal recognition.
One part of his life was his highly successful, innovative and sometimes controversial career as a very senior civil servant. The other was as a founding father of modern ornithology, and perhaps the most remarkable wildlife conservationist the world has known. He wrote his first bird books while in his twenties, and organised the first heronries census in 1928; in 1932 he was a founder of the BTO.
After the Second World War, he was a prime mover in the formation of the then Nature Conservancy, the world's first statutory nature conservation body, and was its Director General from 1952 to 1966. He had a hand in setting up the Wildfowl Trust, with Peter Scott, and was much involved in the creation of the World Wildlife Fund. There were two spells on RSPB Council, leading to his Presidency of our Society from 1980 to 1985, and a Vice Presidency from 1989.
Max Nicholson was a far-sighted, highly motivated thinker, planner and organiser, whose tireless work for wildlife did an enormous amount to put conservation on the world map - and keep it there. To the end, he remained a committed birdwatcher: perhaps the best clue to the huge debt we owe him was a simple and dedicated love of his subject.